Travel Nursing Lingo: A Guide to Common Vocabulary and Terms

If you are considering a career in travel nursing, it is important to be familiar with the lingo. This guide will introduce you to some of the most common vocabulary and terms used in the industry. By understanding these concepts, you will be able to communicate more effectively with your colleagues and understand their experiences better. Let’s get started!

Table of Contents

Travel Nursing Definitions

Travel Nurse – A registered nurse who is hired by a healthcare organization to work on a temporary or travel assignment.


Travel Nursing Agency – A company that specializes in finding travel nurse jobs for registered nurses.

Contract Definitions

Contract – The legal document that outlines the terms of a travel nurse’s employment, including compensation, benefits, and job duties.

Travel nurses work under a short-term contract ranging from 4 weeks to 13 weeks. Although 26-week assignments are possible, they can be uncommon within the industry. International contracts can last from 1 to 2 years.

Once a contract is completed, travel nurses may be offered an extension for additional weeks or find a new position.


Assignment Start Date – The date on which a travel nurse’s employment begins. This is typically the day the nurse arrives at the worksite. Usually, this date is listed as the Sunday before orientation week even if your first official day is different. 


Assignment End Date – The date on which a travel nurse’s employment ends. After the end of an assignment, a travel nurse may be offered an extension, or they may be expected to move on to a new assignment. Usually, this date is listed as the Saturday of your last contract week even if your final day is different.


Contract Term – The length of time for which a travel nurse is employed. Contract terms can range from four weeks to thirteen weeks, although 26-week assignments are possible. International contracts typically last from one to two years.


Contract Shift – The hours that a travel nurse is scheduled to work each day. For example, a contract shift may be listed as “three twelve-hour shifts per week.” This can also be day shift (7a-7p), night shift (7p-7a), mid-shift (9a-9p, 11a-11p, 1p-1a, 3p-3a), or variable shifts (switching between two shifts such as day shift and night shift). 


Approved Time Off – The amount of time off that a travel nurse is allowed to take during their employment. This may be listed as “two weeks per assignment” or “unlimited.” If the facility agrees to provide you with these days off, the days will be written into your contract. 


Unit – The specific area of the hospital in which a travel nurse works. For example the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), the Emergency Department (ED), the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), or the Operating Room (OR).

As with any contract, the unit is at liberty to float you to different floors depending on the need of the facility. However, it is important to review your contract regarding which unit you are assigned for accuracy. 


Required Hours – This is the number of hours you are required to work per week. These hours can range from 24 to 60 hours a week or more. 


Guaranteed Hours –  This is the number of hours you are guaranteed to be paid for each week, regardless of whether or not you actually work those hours. For example, if your contract states that you are guaranteed 32 hours per week but you only work 30 hours, you will still be paid for 32 hours. However, even if the contract has guaranteed hours, there is an allowance for the hospital may be allowed to call you off during your contract without having to pay for your services.

If you do not work these guaranteed hours, you may be in breach of the contract.

Compensation Lingo/Vocabulary

Base Hourly Rate –  The starting hourly wage for a travel nurse. This is the initial compensation rate you receive in exchange for hours worked. For example, $20/hour for 36 hours = $720 (taxable). This rate is usually taxable under the IRS. 


On-Call Hourly Rate – The hourly wage a travel nurse receives for being “on-call.” On-call shifts are typically from 0-hour to 24-hours. For example, if your on-call hourly rate is $10/hour and you are on call for 16 hours, your total compensation would be $160.

This typically affects Operating Room and Cath Lab nurses more often than in other departments. Rates are typically lower than base hourly rates and can range from $3 per hour to $10 per hour. 


Daily Allowance – A daily allowance given to travel nurses in addition to their hourly wage. This is a tax-free way for companies to reimburse their nurses for their daily expenses such as food and incidentals. The amount of the per diem allowance is based on the location of the assignment. Please consult a tax professional regarding these guidelines.


Housing Type/Allowance –  There are three types of housing options that a travel nursing company can provide: corporate apartments, private rentals, and extended stay hotels.

The most common type of housing provided is the corporate apartment. These are usually furnished apartments that meet the specific needs of a travel nurse such as being near the hospital, having a washer and dryer in the unit, and being pet-friendly.

The company will pay for most, if not all, of the rent and utilities. Some companies will also provide a stipend for internet and cable.

The second type of housing is a private rental. In this case, the nurse is responsible for finding their own housing and the company will reimburse them for a certain amount of rent per week.

The amount of the reimbursement can vary depending on the location and cost of living in that area.

The last type of housing is an extended stay hotel. This is typically used for short-term assignments or when housing is not available. The company will usually reimburse the nurse for a certain amount per day.


Travel Reimbursement – This is the amount of money given to a nurse to cover the costs of travel to and from their assignment.

This can be given as a lump sum at the beginning of the assignment or it can be given as a stipend per day.

The amount of the travel reimbursement will vary depending on the location of the assignment and the length of the assignment.

This amount (if offered) will be distributed by paying half on your first paycheck and half on your last paycheck for the contract. Consult your travel agency regarding their guidelines for travel reimbursement.  


Tax Home – The IRS defines your “tax home” as “your regular or main place of business or employment, regardless of where you maintain your family home.”

This means that even if you are working in a state other than the one in which you reside, the income you earn from that job is still taxable in your home state.

You will need to file a non-resident state tax return for the state in which you worked and a resident state tax return for your home state.

You will also need to file a federal income tax return. Consult a tax professional regarding these guidelines. 

Missed Hours Penalty – A penalty imposed by the hospital for missed hours. This is typically a fee of $50-100 per hour.

This can be avoided by finding a replacement nurse for your shift or by working the missed hours at a later date.

Please consult your agency regarding their policies on missed hours.


This is just a quick guide to some of the most common travel nursing vocabulary and terms. This should help you better understand what your agency is talking about and what to expect during your assignment.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us. We would be more than happy to help!